As a photographer, I spend a fair amount of my free time simply browsing the work of other photographers. I don’t limit my browsing to just other professional photographers, but I browse images posted by friends on Facebook, Flickr, 500px, Tumblr, etc., and even images randomly captured on my friends’ cell phones. Great images can be found just about anywhere. With the proliferation of advanced smart phones and the cameras built into them, everyone can be a photographer. But does that mean you ask your friend to swing by your wedding to take pictures with their latest and greatest smartphone? Probably not.
So then what is the difference between a good photographer and a great photographer? Short answer: the person looking at the picture. It’s that simple. You can find site after site of people telling you how the image has to evoke a feeling or emotion. You will find other sites that rate great photographers on their composition, lighting, use of leading lines, subject matter, etc. and so on and so on. I think this is a very traditional way of defining great photography and therefore great photographers and it makes sense to a point. But only to a point!
Photography is both a science and an art. Don’t believe me? Google the term “inverse-square law” for light. Since ‘photography’ literally means capturing light, the inverse-square law is fairly important to photography. Another example is having your settings manually set in your camera, taking a picture, looking at it, and realizing you need 2 more stops of light to get the picture you want. Instead of blindly changing a setting or two and taking several more pictures, a photographer that understands the science can more quickly, and more accurately, get to the desired outcome.
But there is more to it than just being scientifically proficient and accurate with lighting and camera settings. There is the art of photography and with any art, the value is defined by the viewer. A picture of something, anything, may get a certain response from one person and yet a completely different response from someone else. Neither response is right or wrong. If you are about to get married and have a very traditional ceremony in mind, you may want very soft looking pictures with loving expressions and glowing sunsets behind a kissing couple. But what if you and your significant other want a non-traditional ceremony with Harley-Davidson motorcycles as a theme and an array of tattoo images as the focus? The finished images will probably be quite different. What appeals to one may not appeal to another. What one considers art, another may consider junk, or even offensive and THAT’S OKAY! If someone, somewhere, isn’t offended by it, it’s probably not art.
All of this is a long winded way to say a ‘great’ photographer is who you think is a great photographer. As mentioned in the beginning of this blog, I follow all types of photography by all types of photographers. Some award-winning photographers with images published in several different publications don’t interest me near as much as a random photo a kid may have taken with a toy camera; even if the award-winning photographer may be proficiently flawless! A ‘great’ photographer as defined by Sports Illustrated may not be a great photographer as defined by National Geographic. If you are looking for a photographer for any occasion, look at their work! If it speaks to you in a way that makes you want to work with them, you have probably discovered a great photographer.
If you are a photographer and are wondering if your work is great, keep in mind that you may be able to please all of the people some of the time, or maybe even some of the people all of the time, but you will never please all of the people all of the time. Even as a photographer, if your work speaks to you, regardless of what others think, you are a great photographer. And stop comparing! “Comparison is the death of joy.” ~ Mark Twain.
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.